Grassroots and talent development

It wasn’t too along ago 21 young girls between the ages of 12 and 16 from Thua Thien Hue Province were playing football on gravel pitches with minimal resources. For 3-5 years these girls participated in Football for All in Vietnam clubs and the biggest events for them used to be their district level Fun Football Festivals and the FFAV Cup in Hue City. It’s amazing to see how far they’ve come, where they are now wearing Vietnamese National Team shirts, living their lives in Hanoi, training on FIFA sanctioned pitches and attending school.

Over the weekend of December 17-18, 2016 I spent time with these young girls from Thua Thien Hue Province in Hanoi. Along with FFAV’s Head of Technical Department Le Dinh Chung we took the girls out for a night out in Hanoi. We walked around a big shopping mall and had ice cream together. It was a great opportunity for me to interact with young girls that have grown and developed from a grassroots foundation. Through my broken Vietnamese language I was able to discuss with them their experiences of participating in FFAV football clubs prior to moving to Hanoi. They told me that fun environment and getting to play with friends were aspects they appreciated the most about FFAV. From their humble beginnings they’ve grown to be talented and exceptional young women on the football pitch. In addition to them playing football, they spoke about how they enjoyed participating in FFAV life-skills education and interacting with the many volunteers that helped organized events. The playground provided by FFAV football clubs was a space in which they grew as children and as football players.

Michael Dao and young girls from Thua Thien Hue province in Hanoi

As I continue to work for FFAV and research the idea of sport for development through the context of the organization I have been fortunate to experience the many benefits that football at a grassroots level can bring. And one of these benefits is creating the space for talent to be discovered. By bringing the opportunity of playing football to thousands of children in Thua Thien Hue it would only be a matter of time before high-quality football talent would evolve. Looking at the main objectives of FFAV there is no clear goal of creating elite football talent from grassroots participation, but it would be inappropriate to not acknowledge the national talent that has come about from the grassroots football principles set forth by FFAV. The thousands of children participating in FFAV football clubs are a solid foundation for football talent.

To know that these young girls benefitted greatly from participating in FFAV football clubs indicates an unforeseen value of grassroots football. In the eyes of many, grassroots football may mean non-competitive, for mass participation and for fun. However, these values do not mean that elite, competitive talent cannot be discovered on grassroots pitches. By increasing the number of participants in grassroots football it is evident that more talented players will be found.

Michael Dao